Why I Wish I’d Followed My Instincts As a Climate Denier

Coming clean on what I really think about “corporate climate action”

B. Lorraine Smith

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Clouds imitating trees? Or trees imitating clouds? Reality: elusive, even when it’s in our faces.

We were driving — my boss, J and I — on a wide swath of highway towards a client site just outside Atlanta, Georgia. It was 2012, early days for us. I had been freelancing for the firm where he was a senior leader. I then got hired on as a director, largely because of this man who had put me forward as a strong candidate based on our project work so far. He respected me and I respected him.

We got to talking about climate change, and I said something like, “I’m not sure I really buy the story of climate change.”

[record scratch sound]

He was a few years older than me, at least a foot taller, of Scandinavian descent — read: intimidating. He gave me a look that might as well have said: “Do you want to get out of the car and walk?”

I looked out at the blinding beads of sun strung on endless cars, and wondered: “Did I just make a career-ending statement?” I started digging my way out of the hole. I knew what I said was true, but I didn’t know how to support my point. And I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself.

Still, I felt a strong resistance to the corporate climate change agenda. This lumped me (undetected) with the climate deniers. I was not in favor of the tactics some of them are most certainly guilty of (financing obfuscating messaging, etc). Yet I felt like it was not an open and shut case. It was all very inwardly awkward, so I pressed on as my cultural training has groomed me to do.

I pressed on in the game of working with large companies to create “sustainability strategies”, the linchpin of which are often “climate actions”.

I pressed on to learn as much as I could about science-based targets, examples of leadership in emissions reductions, new carbon sequestration innovations, and more.

I even pressed on in front of audiences, stating that a “regenerative economy” is one that sequesters more carbon than it emits, supporting the idea that if we could get the emissions thing sorted, we’d be well on our way.

Now I know what I meant

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B. Lorraine Smith

Former sustainability consultant replacing ESG with reality-based insights about corporate purpose and impact. https://www.blorrainesmith.com/